Imprisoned: part four
“Let us say then,” Broughton continued, “that you, unable to conceal your presence from this visitor, and sensibly recognizing the position rather a compromising one, open the door to him. He charges you with an errand. He has brought a letter; he asks that you deliver this letter to Captain Henning. He says that the matter is urgent. Henning himself must take possession of this letter; it cannot be given to another.”
“I know of no one called Captain Henning…”
Broughton said nothing. This, Honoré realized, was part of his conjectural quandary. No one in the house did Honoré know by name, only his own visitors, Broughton and M. Bellet. He trusted Bellet implicitly; Broughton, somewhat less so.
“I must say to this man…say, I cannot account for this letter, unless you will point to me who I am to give it to…” He was winding himself along a dissatisfying pathway; with a palms-up gesture, he looked across at Broughton.
“Well,” Broughton said, “your thinking is not entirely unsound. The man would likely leave you, taking his letter with him. He would suspect you were not the easiest of marks; yet, Gremot, consider that he has provided you with a piece of information. You may use this to obtain a second piece of information. How might you do so?”
In silence, Honoré pondered. Finally, he said, “Do you expect…” He was not addressing Broughton, but working out the method by which he would question the visitor.
“…that Captain Henning would be gone, when you came with your letter? When do you always find him here?”
Broughton sighed, not in exasperation, but in the manner of one who has studied a chessboard for several minutes and at last discovered his move.
“Now,” he said, “do you believe that you can bear that sort of thing in mind? There are those who never do well; there are those who, given time, will grope their way out of darkness…but you must learn to keep a weather eye, Gremot. You must adapt yourself to circumstance.”
They heard their host descend the steps. “Madame Freneau,” Biencourt said, “you stand in my way.”
Madame Freneau said something rather shocking for a woman of her age, a servant speaking to her master. A sound of tussling came from the staircase. The servant appeared with a box and a bottle. She glanced at Broughton, shook her head only slightly; putting her back to him, she chose Honoré, and motioned. He understood. Properly―for she was a woman―he got to his feet, and lifted the empty platter from the table, that she might set her things down. Speaking in French, she confided, “He will carry these, and he can barely walk on the stairs. He will certainly fall.”
(2017, Stephanie Foster)